Sometimes it is difficult to determine who is communicating knowledge based on science and who is merely expressing a carefully crafted opinion that promotes or protects particular vested interests. Below we discuss a vocal timber industry advocate and an AM radio talk show host who have been vocal critics of either local or national fire management practices and have attempted to influence public policy.
Dr. Thomas Bonnicksen Industry Advocate
With the financial support of the Forest Foundation, Dr. Bonnicksen is a frequent speaker during land management conferences and hearings, is often quoted in newspapers, and writes numerous editorials concerning wildfires, and what he calls "forest restoration."
Although Dr. Bonnicksen claims to be an expert on chaparral, citing his doctoral thesis and associated publications as evidence of such expertise, we question this perspective. The title of his 1978 "chaparral" thesis was "A biosocial analysis of fire management decision-making for brushland watersheds in southern California." Using a discussion based "verbal-simulation method" to examine opinions collected from personal interviews and data from public documents, he made various conclusions about wildfire policy.
"Use of this biosocial systems model has established the plausibility of the hypothesis that persistence of the fire exclusion policy is due to the structural and functional characteristics of a cybernetic system locked in a positive feedback loop. Increasing losses stimulate increasing public expenditure for fire exclusion. (Bonnicksen, T.M, and R.G. Lee. 1979. Persistence of a fire exclusion policy in southern California: a biosocial interpretation. Journal of Environmental Management 8: 277-293).
A demonstration of expertise in chaparral ecosystems? Although policy analysis and discussion models may help us develop an understanding of social issues, they are not very productive in developing an expertise in chaparral ecology, biological field methods, or wildfire behavior. Dr. Bonnicksen's career has focused on social policy, not conducting scientific field research projects designed to understand natural ecosystems or the dynamic nature of wildland fire. Without understanding chaparral crown-fire ecosystems, ignoring data indicating that fire exclusion has not occurred in Southern California chaparral (see Myth #2 on our MYTHS page), and failing to consider all the relevant variables, Dr. Bonnicksen came to conclusions that reflect subjective opinion more than scientific truth. Such bias, usually unconscious, is what scientists endeavor to eliminate from their scientific design.
For additional information on Dr. Bonnicksen, see our Industry Advocate page where you can read: - Why his credentials are being questioned by leading fire ecologists - Our response to his misrepresentations of how wildfires behave - A response to Dr. Bonnicksen from the Acting Superintendent of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, Russel J. Wilson
Roger Hedgecock AM Radio Host
Although AM radio talk show hosts are not usually known for their objective analysis of data, Roger Hedgecock, the host of his own show on the San Diego AM radio station KOGO, has been particularly biased when fire and firefighters are the subject of his commentary. San Diego's former mayor, who left office in 1985 after being indicted for perjury and conspiracy, has verbally abused the fire service, and San Diego firefighters in particular, as being a corrupt institution. During and after the 2003 Cedar Fire, Hedgecock continually questioned the region's firefighter's abilities, honesty, and competence. He also has fabricated events that never occurred in order to support his opinions.